Finally, a book that features sex workers as main characters, not as main victims or main outcasts! The reviewers talk about the amazing revelation that sex workers are real people, thanks to this story. The author thanks $pread Magazine, the St. James Infirmary, Bay Area SWOP, and The Harm Reduction Coalition and Training Institute in her long list of acknowledgements. Uptown Thief by Aya de Leon is the first in a series featuring the sex workers introduced in this story.
This has been sitting in the Drafts folder for so long that I no longer remember what I probably intended to say.
Created March 23, 2010
Tiger Airways is like Southwest but with fewer frills, like a jetway and legroom.
If you’ve ever flown Tiger Air, you know what I’m talking about. They’re even more barebones than Southwest or Spirit or Ryanair, as having all the parts of the plane is irrelevant while flying. They get bad reviews (though I can’t say I ever experienced anything I didn’t expect from a budget Asian airline), and funny reviews.
Tiger flew out of the “budget” terminal in Singapore (yes, they differentiate their terminals that way) and the security was so cursory it was clear they didn’t give a damn if the cheap and/or poor people got blown to bits. The terminal was basically an indoor hawker stand, and boarding was a mess. You walked outside to the stairs to the plane; they weren’t going to bother with weather protection of any kind, or a climate controlled jet bridge. Not for the lower class people having the temerity to fly. At least we were all leaving the island. I’m sure that was viewed as a good thing.
This particular rant is something I’ve been wanting to say for years (and has been sitting in my Drafts folder for a while; written in 2010 in Singapore so many of the things I say here don’t apply to the US). Other than a few adjustments to reflect the passage of time, the essay is unchanged.
What sparked it was two things happening on a discussion board in one week. One was a thread where some hobbyists reacted badly to a touring escort charging $350USD/hr (the nerve! the gall! the audacity! the envy!) and another was a PM to me, an attempt by a hobbyist to “help” me navigate the Singapore scene and make sure I’m not charging too much. (Russian girls at Brix are the “cream of the crop” and I’m not so I can’t charge more than they do, which was $300SGD/hr according to him. I wonder if he knew there were two non-Russian indies charging right at $1000SGD/hr in Singapore at that time. I charged a minimum $500SGD/hr or $800SGD/2hrs, depending.)
Despite the hand-wringing and general disbelief of hobbyists, my clients are usually pretty happy with me. I’m personable, intelligent, interesting, beautiful, mentally-mature and fully focused on their needs. I don’t have a pimp hiding in the corner, I won’t phone-stalk them at 4am, I don’t try to manipulate them into becoming my “boyfriend” or desperately taking risks to make a few extra bucks to support my starving extended family in some poverty-stricken country. I don’t chase extra money or presents: clients pay my fee and that’s it. Their responsibility ends (sometimes they’re spontaneously moved to extremely kind generosity). I’m with them because I want to be — they’re with me for exactly the same reason. To me, that’s all cream. For everyone. [Insert sex joke here, if you must.]
Just because hobbyists can’t imagine something doesn’t mean it can’t exist. I’ve been fighting this stupid battle since 2002. The narrow vision and nosy desire to control a stubborn, independent cuss of a woman just keeps on keeping on. Sigh.
Today is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. I feel it hardly needs introduction anymore, thanks to social media and a lot of sex workers starting to have an interest in activism, or at least interest on social media.
This year the December 17 memorial site has short bios for some of the victims. It’s about time. Credit to whomever implemented the idea. Humanizing and properly memorializing the victims is so very important.
Accessing justice is very difficult for sex workers living and working under US laws.
Violence against sex workers is legally-sanctioned here in the US. Unless you get really lucky and find someone who is willing to help you and has the power to do so (and that someone likely won’t come from a sex work org), you’re going to end up dead. I’m not trying to derail this day to make it about Jill and I because we’re alive and I can’t complain about that. But it was perfectly clear to us through the last six months that the system was willing to let us be killed rather than take minimal measures to protect us. It wasn’t just that we were fighting an enemy entrenched with the legal system (Pig), a large part of it was that we were women, and sex workers.
How much harder is it for women who know they’re in danger but don’t have any help at all? The news is filled with women killed by former partners or men they’ve rejected but never had a relationship with. Some of those women have been sex workers. Legal protections rarely extend to sex workers. Their surviving loved ones have almost no hope of justice. Someone tell me I’m wrong and that most of the men who killed sex workers in the US this year were apprehended. I’d be thrilled to know that and make a correction.
I’m not down on sex work orgs — they do vital outreach and education in the US. The one thing they really have no ability to offer is legal protection or access justice. Legal referrals are difficult to get because there are very few people in the system who are okay with helping sex workers. Very few. (The one sex work org referral I got ended up being a vice officer who was skeptical that Pig had broken any laws — yeah, that’s a big help.) It’s far easier to find a doctor willing to treat sex workers because we’re seen as disease vectors who need monitoring. Far harder for someone in the legal system to see us as anything but ready-made criminals.
US sex work orgs are severely hampered by the laws, obviously, which makes their ability to offer protection or justice slim. Changing the laws is the answer. Always. That hasn’t changed and will never change.
The best protection any victim, or potential victim, could have is to be viewed as a citizen of equal worth to anyone else. That their life is worth defending, their death worth preventing. Not regulating them to criminal, non-human status is a huge start in getting to that place.
Jill had the idea of a lawsuit brought by victims’ families holding the people who make these laws responsible. It’s a unique idea, and worth exploring. (You can hear Jill and I discuss this, and a few other topics, on a brief radio show.)
In the same vein, the Vancouver police department issued a video statement of how sex workers are to be treated. Basically, like humans and citizens with rights. Revolutionary.
What every sex worker faces in the fight for justice, whether in the larger activist sense or in the smaller sense of considering whether to file a police report or restraining order.
These thoughts came about due to reading the about the legal defense tactics of Oklahoma cop Daniel Holtzclaw, “The Claw.” He specifically chosen stigmatized women with criminal charges of some kind or another to rape: sex workers, women with drug addictions, and all of them black. He knew they were easy targets and no one would believe them if they ever dared come forward, including a 17yr old. His actions came to light after he sexually assaulted a woman who was none of the above. (Echoes of Gary Ridgeway, anyone?)
Unsurprisingly, his defense is resting on tearing apart the women he assaulted, which is easy to do because they’re imperfect victims. They’re not angels, even the underage teen had an outstanding warrant for trespassing.
The empty-courtroom lack of support for the victims of Holtzclaw is what moved me to write this post. Some of his victims are fellow sex workers. I’m not aware of any sex work org that offered support to them in any form, correct me if I’m wrong. Various women’s groups seem to be shying away from supporting his victims as well, presumably because they are not “perfect” women, especially with drug use and sex work aspects.
These tactics have been used on every woman who has ever filed rape charges against anyone; against any sex worker who has attempted to file charges against anyone for anything. The most recent use of both sex work stigma and the imperfect victim in the courtroom is Jonathan Paul Koppenhaver’s (aka War Machine) defense that since his ex-girlfriend Christie Mack was a porn star, she pre-consented to everything he did to her.
Imperfect victims may not be easy to like. They may do shady or illegal things themselves. They make what others consider bad decisions. (Generally, it’s seen as bad decision on their part to get in the way of their assaulter’s fist or rapist’s penis.)
While most people use the term “unsympathetic” victim, I’m using the term “imperfect” because I think this has much more to do with the victims being easily judged by others for their flaws and shortcomings, as opposed to whether or not they’re relatable and/or pitiable. Their obvious social imperfections make it very easy to “other” them, leading to their condemnation — as opposed to focusing on the perpetrators who harmed them.
Yes, there’s a personal interest here. All Jill and I have been for the past 3.5yrs are imperfect victims (that is, assuming we’re seen as victims at all). I do not like identifying as a “victim” but from a legal standpoint, I am. Like these woman, a predator saw an opportunity and took it. Every lawyer Jill and I have consulted with has been concerned about our sex work coming up in court. Because of this “concern” by gutless lawyers, we’ve never seen the inside of a courtroom because they were too afraid to take on the case. Why was it somehow bad that I was a sex worker injured by my client, yet not seen as legally vulnerable for him to have been a client? Sex work stigma, imperfect victim, female.
Imperfect victims exist everywhere, not just among women and sex workers. Younis Chekkouri, a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay, is an imperfect victim, despite apparently being haplessly innocent. Isn’t innocence part of the definition of victimhood? Why then, is innocence removed from imperfect victims? Because, somehow, their lives render them less-innocent than the perpetrators who harmed them.
This has been said before, but if a perpetrator is to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, how does it manage to work that the victim of certain crimes is automatically guilty, never to be innocent at all?
Every single time another person (usually black, often unarmed) is killed by police, their lives are scrutinized to find just how much of an imperfect victim they are in order to justify their death. The amazing discovery is that, aside from Tamir Rice (a child), none of these victims were perfect. They were human, sometimes making poor decisions, sometimes prior law-breakers, even if the laws broken were minor. Their imperfect victim status is touted as all the reason in the world for their death. It’s certainly a line of logic that sex workers recognize. When it comes to heavily stigmatized people, basically, you’re an imperfect victim because you’re still breathing.
While the antihero is a celebrated figure, imperfect victims open themselves up to re-victimization simply by being imperfect. Why does it work that way? Is it the inherent vulnerability of being a victim in the first place? I think that has a lot to do with it, actually. Only the perfect are allowed to be vulnerable, if you are imperfect then you had it coming to you. An antihero is not a victim. Often, antiheroes seek revenge and this is the opposite of vulnerable. Antiheroes aren’t “othered,” they’re seen as something to emulate.
The best, most meta statement on the antihero/victim dichotomy is summed up neatly in The Crow. Eric Draven comes back from the dead to hunt down and kill the extremely criminal men who killed him and his fiance. As he begins his night of revenge, he ironically tells one of the men (before stabbing him to death), “Victims. Aren’t we all?”
Imperfect victims who have the guts to come forward, especially once their cases make it to court, should be offered moral support — at the very least. This battle gets fought over and over again: every time a child abuse victim speaks up, a rape victim files charges, a sex worker is harmed by a client or someone in their personal life, and so on. At what point does the reverse happen and the perpetrator become an imperfect criminal? Even mass shooters often manage to escape the amount of blame heaped on the average rape victim, as minimizing excuse after excuse is offered for the shooters’ actions.
What makes a perfect victim? Being none of the above. White and male makes a huge difference to accessing justice, or managing not to be the victim of a crime in the first place. Money creates an even bigger gap (some of the people unjustly killed by police in this year have been white men who were poor). These three things alone will prevent the desire to show imperfections. Nice, right? (And who needs moral support when the entire system is perfectly aligned with your needs?)